The Machine Stops
Imagine, if you can, a small room, hexagonal in shape, like the cell of
a bee. It is lighted neither by window nor by lamp, yet it is filled with
a soft radiance. There are no apertures for ventilation, yet the air is
fresh. There are no musical instruments, and yet, at the moment
that my meditation opens, this room is throbbing with melodious
sounds. An armchair is in the centre, by its side a reading-desk -
that is all the furniture. And in the armchair there sits a swaddled
lump of flesh - a woman, about five feet high, with a face as white as
a fungus. It is to her that the little room belongs.
An electric bell rang.
The woman touched a switch and the music was silent.
“I suppose I must see who it is”, she thought, and set her chair in
motion. The chair, like the music, was worked by machinery and it
rolled her to the other side of the room where the bell still rang
“Who is it?” she called. Her voice was irritable, for she had been
interrupted often since the music began. She knew several thousand
people, in certain directions human intercourse had advanced
But when she listened into the receiver, her white face wrinkled into
smiles, and she said:
“Very well. Let us talk, I will isolate myself. I do not expect anything
important will happen for the next five minutes - for I can give you
fully five minutes, Kuno. Then I must deliver my lecture on ‘Music
during the Australian Period’.”
She touched the isolation knob, so that no one else could speak to
her. Then she touched the lighting apparatus, and the little room
was plunged into darkness.
She called, her irritation returning.
“Be quick, Kuno; here 1 am in the dark wasting my time.”
But it was fully fifteen seconds before the round plate that she held
in her hands began to glow. A faint blue light shot across it,
darkening to purple, and presently she could see the image of her
son, who lived on the other side of the earth, and he could see her.
“Kuno, how slow you are.”
He smiled gravely.
“1 really believe you enjoy dawdling.”
“1 have called you before, mother, but you were always busy or
isolated. 1 have something particular to say.”
“What is it, dearest boy? Be quick. Why could you not send it by
“Because 1 prefer saying such a thing. 1 want-”
“1 want you to come and see me.”
Vashti watched his face in the blue plate.
“But 1 can see you!” she exclaimed. “What more do you want?”
“1 want to see you not through the Machine,” said Kuno. “1 want to
speak to you not through the wearisome Machine.”
“Oh, hush!” said his mother, vaguely shocked. “You mustn’t say
anything against the Machine.”
“You talk as if a god had made the Machine,” cried the other.
“1 believe that you pray to it when you are unhappy. Men made it, do
not forget that. Great men, but men. The Machine is much, but it is
not everything. I see something like you in this plate, but 1 do not see
you. 1 hear something like you through this telephone, but 1 do not
hear you. That is why 1 want you to come. Pay me a visit, so that we
can meet face to face, and talk about the hopes that are in my mind.”
She replied that she could scarcely spare the time for a visit.
“The air-ship barely takes two days to fly between me and you.”
“1 dislike air-ships.”
“1 dislike seeing the horrible brown earth, and the sea, and the stars
when it is dark. 1 get no ideas in an air-ship.”
“1 do not get them anywhere else.”
“What kind of ideas can the air give you?”
He paused for an instant.
“Do you not know four big stars that form an oblong, and three stars
close together in the middle of the oblong, and hanging from these
stars, three other stars?”
“No, 1 do not. 1 dislike the stars. But did they give you an idea? How
interesting; tell me.”
“1 had an idea that they were like a man.”
“1 do not understand.”
“The four big stars are the man’s shoulders and his knees.
The three stars in the middle are like the belts that men wore once,
and the three stars hanging are like a sword.”
“Men carried swords about with them, to kill animals and other
“It does not strike me as a very good idea, but it is certainly original.
When did it come to you first?”
“In the air-ship He broke off, and she faneied that he looked sad.
She could not be sure, for the Machine did not transmit nuances of
expression. It only gave a general idea of people - an idea that was
good enough for all practical purposes, Vashti thought. The
imponderable bloom, declared by a discredited philosophy to be the
actual essence of intercourse, was rightly ignored by the Machine,
just as the imponderable bloom of the grape was ignored by the
manufacturers of artificial fruit. Something “good enough” had long
since been accepted by our race.
“The truth is,” he continued, “that I want to see these stars again.
They are curious stars. I want to see them not from the air-ship, but
from the surface of the earth, as our ancestors did, thousands of
years ago. I want to visit the surface of the earth.”
She was shocked again.
“Mother, you must come, if only to explain to me what is the harm of
visiting the surface of the earth.”
“No harm,” she replied, controlling herself. “But no advantage. The
surface of the earth is only dust and mud, no advantage. The surface
of the earth is only dust and mud, no life remains on it, and you
would need a respirator, or the cold of the outer air would kill you.
One dies immediately in the outer air.”
“I know; of course I shall take all precautions.”
She considered, and chose her words with care. Her son had a queer
temper, and she wished to dissuade him from the expedition.
“It is contrary to the spirit of the age,” she asserted.
“Do you mean by that, contrary to the Machine?”
“In a sense, but-”
His image is the blue plate faded.
He had isolated himself.
For a moment Vashti felt lonely.
Then she generated the light, and the sight of her room, flooded
with radianee and studded with electric buttons, revived her. There
were buttons and switches everywhere- buttons to call for food for
music, for clothing. There was the hot-bath button, by pressure of
which a basin of (imitation) marble rose out of the floor, filled to the
brim with a warm deodorized liquid. There was the cold-bath
button. There was the button that produced literature. And there
were of course the buttons by which she communicated with her
friends. The room, though it contained nothing, was in touch with all
that she cared for in the world.
Vashti’s next move was to turn off the isolation switch, and all the
accumulations of the last three minutes burst upon her. The room
was filled with the noise of bells, and speaking-tubes. What was the
new food like? Could she recommend it? Has she had any ideas
lately? Might one tell her one’s own ideas? Would she make an
engagement to visit the public nurseries at an early date? - say this
To most of these questions she replied with irritation - a growing
quality in that accelerated age. She said that the new food was
horrible. That she could not visit the public nurseries through press
of engagements. That she had no ideas of her own but had just been
told one-that four stars and three in the middle were like a man: she
doubted there was much in it. Then she switched off her
correspondents, for it was time to deliver her lecture on Australian
The clumsy system of public gatherings had been long since
abandoned; neither Vashti nor her audience stirred from their
rooms. Seated in her armchair she spoke, while they in their
armchairs heard her, fairly well, and saw her, fairly well. She opened
with a humorous account of music in the pre-Mongolian epoch, and
went on to describe the great outburst of song that followed the
Chinese conquest. Remote and primaeval as were the methods of 1-
San-So and the Brisbane school, she yet felt (she said) that study of
them might repay the musicians of today: they had freshness; they
had, above all, ideas. Her lecture, which lasted ten minutes, was well
received, and at its conclusion she and many of her audience
listened to a lecture on the sea; there were ideas to be got from the
sea; the speaker had donned a respirator and visited it lately. Then
she fed, talked to many friends, had a bath, talked again, and
summoned her bed.
The bed was not to her liking. It was too large, and she had a feeling
for a small bed. Complaint was useless, for beds were of the same
dimension all over the world, and to have had an alternative size
would have involved vast alterations in the Machine. Vashti isolated
herself-it was necessary, for neither day nor night existed under the
ground-and reviewed all that had happened since she had
summoned the bed last. Ideas? Scarcely any. Events - was Kuno’s
invitation an event?
By her side, on the little reading-desk, was a survival from the ages
of litter - one book. This was the Book of the Machine. In it were
instructions against every possible contingency. If she was hot or
cold or dyspeptic or at a loss for a word, she went to the book, and it
told her which button to press. The Central Committee published it.
In accordance with a growing habit, it was richly bound.
Sitting up in the bed, she took it reverently in her hands. She
glanced round the glowing room as if some one might be watching
her. Then, half ashamed, half joyful, she murmured “O Machine! O
Machine!” and raised the volume to her lips. Thrice she kissed it,
thrice inclined her head, thrice she felt the delirium of acquiescence.
Her ritual performed, she turned to page 1367, which gave the times
of the departure of the air-ships from the island in the southern
hemisphere, under whose soil she lived, to the island in the northern
hemisphere, whereunder lived her son.
She thought, “I have not the time.”
She made the room dark and slept; she awoke and made the room
light; she ate and exchanged ideas with her friends, and listened to
music and attended lectures; she make the room dark and slept.
Above her, beneath her, and around her, the Machine hummed
eternally; she did not notice the noise, for she had been born with it
in her ears. The earth, carrying her, hummed as it sped through
silence, turning her now to the invisible sun, now to the invisible
stars. She awoke and made the room light.
“1 will not talk to you,” he answered, “until you come.”
“Have you been on the surface of the earth since we spoke last?”
His image faded.
Again she consulted the book. She became very nervous and lay back
in her chair palpitating. Think of her as without teeth or hair.
Presently she directed the chair to the wall, and pressed an
unfamiliar button. The wall swung apart slowly. Through the
opening she saw a tunnel that curved slightly, so that its goal was
not visible. Should she go to see her son, here was the beginning of
Of course she knew all about the communication-system. There was
nothing mysterious in it. She would summon a car and it would fly
with her down the tunnel until it reached the lift that communicated
with the air-ship station: the system had been in use for many, many
years, long before the universal establishment of the Machine. And
of course she had studied the civilization that had immediately
preceded her own - the civilization that had mistaken the functions
of the system, and had used it for bringing people to things, instead
of for bringing things to people. Those funny old days, when men
went for change of air instead of changing the air in their rooms!
And yet-she was frightened of the tunnel: she had not seen it since
her last child was born. It curved-but not quite as she remembered;
it was brilliant - but not quite as brilliant as a lecturer had
suggested. Vashti was seized with the terrors of direct experience.
She shrank back into the room, and the wall closed up again.
“Kuno,” she said, “1 cannot come to see you. 1 am not well.”
Immediately an enormous apparatus fell on to her out of the ceiling,
a thermometer was automatically laid upon her heart. She lay
powerless. Cool pads soothed her forehead. Kuno had telegraphed
to her doctor.
So the human passions still blundered up and down in the Machine.
Vashti drank the medicine that the doctor projected into her mouth,
and the machinery retired into the ceiling. The voice of Kuno was
heard asking how she felt.
“Better.” Then with irritation: “But why do you not come to me
“Because 1 cannot leave this place.”
“Because, any moment, something tremendous many happen.”
“Have you been on the surface of the earth yet?”
“Then what is it?”
“1 will not tell you through the Machine.”
She resumed her life.
But she thought of Kuno as a baby, his birth, his removal to the
public nurseries, her own visit to him there, his visits to her - visits
which stopped when the Machine had assigned him a room on the
other side of the earth. “Parents, duties of,” said the book of the
Machine, ’’cease at the moment of birth. P.422327483.” True, but
there was something special about Kuno - indeed there had been
something special about all her children - and, after all, she must
brave the journey if he desired it. And “something tremendous might
happen.” What did that mean? The nonsense of a youthful man, no
doubt, but she must go. Again she pressed the unfamiliar button,
again the wall swung baek, and she saw the tunnel that eurves out of
sight. Clasping the Book, she rose, tottered on to the platform, and
summoned the car. Her room closed behind her: the journey to the
northern hemisphere had begun.
Of course it was perfectly easy. The car approached and in it she
found arm-chairs exactly like her own. When she signalled, it
stopped, and she tottered into the lift. One other passenger was in
the lift, the first fellow creature she had seen face to face for
months. Few travelled in these days, for, thanks to the advance of
science, the earth was exactly alike all over. Rapid intercourse, from
which the previous civilization had hoped so much, had ended by
defeating itself. What was the good of going to Pekin when it was
just like Shrewsbury? Why return to Shrewsbury when it would all
be like Pekin? Men seldom moved their bodies; all unrest was
concentrated in the soul.
The air-ship service was a relic from the former age. It was kept up,
because it was easier to keep it up than to stop it or to diminish it,
but it now far exceeded the wants of the population. Vessel after
vessel would rise from the vomitories of Rye or of Christchurch (1
use the antique names), would sail into the crowded sky, and would
draw up at the wharves of the south - empty. So nicely adjusted was
the system, so independent of meteorology, that the sky, whether
calm or cloudy, resembled a vast kaleidoscope whereon the same
patterns periodically recurred. The ship on which Vashti sailed
started now at sunset, now at dawn. But always, as it passed above
Rheims, it would neighbour the ship that served between
Helsingfors and the Brazils, and, every third time it surmounted the
Alps, the fleet of Palermo would cross its track behind. Night and
day, wind and storm, tide and earthquake, impeded man no longer.
He had harnessed Leviathan. All the old literature, with its praise of
Nature, and its fear of Nature, rang false as the prattle of a child.
Yet as Vashti saw the vast flank of the ship, stained with exposure to
the outer air, her horror of direet experience returned. It was not
quite like the air-ship in the cinematophote. For one thing it smelt -
not strongly or unpleasantly, but it did smell, and with her eyes shut
she should have known that a new thing was close to her. Then she
had to walk to it from the lift, had to submit to glances from the
other passengers. The man in front dropped his Book - no great
matter, but it disquieted them all. In the rooms, if the Book was
dropped, the floor raised it mechanically, but the gangway to the
air-ship was not so prepared, and the sacred volume lay motionless.
They stopped-the thing was unforeseen - and the man, instead of
picking up his property, felt the muscles of his arm to see how they
had failed him. Then some one actually said with direct utterance:
“We shall be late” - and they trooped on board, Vashti treading on
the pages as she did so.
Inside, her anxiety increased. The arrangements were old-fashioned
and rough. There was even a female attendant, to whom she would
have to announce her wants during the voyage. Of course a
revolving platform ran the length of the boat, but she was expected
to walk from it to her cabin. Some cabins were better than others,
and she did not get the best. She thought the attendant had been
unfair, and spasms of rage shook her. The glass valves had closed,
she could not go back. She saw, at the end of the vestibule, the lift in
which she had ascended going quietly up and down, empty. Beneath
those corridors of shining tiles were rooms, tier below tier, reaching
far into the earth, and in each room there sat a human being, eating,
or sleeping, or producing ideas. And buried deep in the hive was her
own room. Vashti was afraid.
“O Machine!” she murmured, and caressed her Book, and was
Then the sides of the vestibule seemed to melt together, as do the
passages that we see in dreams, the lift vanished, the Book that had
been dropped slid to the left and vanished, polished tiles rushed by
like a stream of water, there was a slight jar, and the air-ship, issuing
from its tunnel, soared above the waters of a tropical ocean.
It was night. For a moment she saw the coast of Sumatra edged by
the phosphorescence of waves, and crowned by lighthouses, still
sending forth their disregarded beams. These also vanished, and
only the stars distracted her. They were not motionless, but swayed
to and fro above her head, thronging out of one skylight into
another, as if the universe and not the air-ship was careening. And,
as often happens on clear nights, they seemed now to be in
perspective, now on a plane; now piled tier beyond tier into the
infinite heavens, now concealing infinity, a roof limiting for ever the
visions of men. In either case they seemed intolerable. “Are we to
travel in the dark?” called the passengers angrily, and the attendant,
who had been careless, generated the light, and pulled down the
blinds of pliable metal. When the air-ships had been built, the desire
to look direct at things still lingered in the world. Hence the
extraordinary number of skylights and windows, and the
proportionate discomfort to those who were civilized and refined.
Even in Vashti’s cabin one star peeped through a flaw in the blind,
and after a few hours’ uneasy slumber, she was disturbed by an
unfamiliar glow, which was the dawn.
Quick as the ship had sped westwards, the earth had rolled
eastwards quicker still, and had dragged back Vashti and her
companions towards the sun. Science could prolong the night, but
only for a little, and those high hopes of neutralizing the earth’s
diurnal revolution had passed, together with hopes that were
possibly higher. To “keep pace with the sun,” or even to outstrip it,
had been the aim of the civilization preceding this. Racing
aeroplanes had been built for the purpose, capable of enormous
speed, and steered by the greatest intellects of the epoch. Round the
globe they went, round and round, westward, westward, round and
round, amidst humanity’s applause. In vain. The globe went eastward
quicker still, horrible accidents occurred, and the Committee of the
Machine, at the time rising into prominenee, deelared the pursuit
illegal, unmechanical, and punishable by Homelessness.
Of Homelessness more will be said later.
Doubtless the Committee was right. Yet the attempt to “defeat the
sun” aroused the last common interest that our race experieneed
about the heavenly bodies, or indeed about anything. It was the last
time that men were compacted by thinking of a power outside the
world. The sun had conquered, yet it was the end of his spiritual
dominion. Dawn, midday, twilight, the zodiaeal path, touehed
neither men’s lives not their hearts, and seienee retreated into the
ground, to eoneentrate herself upon problems that she was certain
So when Vashti found her cabin invaded by a rosy finger of light, she
was annoyed, and tried to adjust the blind. But the blind flew up
altogether, and she saw through the skylight small pink elouds,
swaying against a baekground of blue, and as the sun crept higher,
its radianee entered direet, brimming down the wall, like a golden
sea. It rose and fell with the air-ship’s motion, just as waves rise and
fall, but it advanced steadily, as a tide advances. Unless she was
eareful, it would strike her faee. A spasm of horror shook her and she
rang for the attendant. The attendant too was horrified, but she
eould do nothing; it was not her place to mend the blind. She eould
only suggest that the lady should ehange her eabin, which she
aeeordingly prepared to do.
People were almost exaetly alike all over the world, but the
attendant of the air-ship, perhaps owing to her exeeptional duties,
had grown a little out of the common. She had often to address
passengers with direet speech, and this had given her a certain
roughness and originality of manner. When Vashti swerved away
from the sunbeams with a cry, she behaved barbarieally - she put
out her hand to steady her.
“How dare you!” exelaimed the passenger. “You forget yourself!”
The woman was confused, and apologized for not having let her fall.
People never touched one another. The custom had become
obsolete, owing to the Machine.
“Where are we now?” asked Vashti haughtily.
“We are over Asia,” said the attendant, anxious to be polite.
“You must excuse my common way of speaking. 1 have got into the
habit of calling
places over which 1 pass by their unmechanical names.”
“Oh, 1 remember Asia. The Mongols came from it.”
“Beneath us, in the open air, stood a city that was once called Simla.”
“Have you ever heard of the Mongols and of the Brisbane school?”
“Brisbane also stood in the open air.”
“Those mountains to the right - let me show you them.” She pushed
back a metal blind. The main chain of the Himalayas was revealed.
“They were once called the Roof of the World, those mountains.”
“What a foolish name!”
“You must remember that, before the dawn of civilization, they
seemed to be an impenetrable wall that touched the stars. It was
supposed that no one but the gods could exist above their summits.
How we have advanced, thanks to the Machine!”
“How we have advanced, thanks to the Machine!” said Vashti.
“How we have advanced, thanks to the Machine!” echoed the
passenger who had
dropped his Book the night before, and who was standing in the
“And that white stuff in the cracks? - what is it?”
“I have forgotten its name.”
“Cover the window, please. These mountains give me no ideas.”
The northern aspeet of the Himalayas was in deep shadow: on the
Indian slope the sun had just prevailed. The forests had been
destroyed during the literature epoeh for the purpose of making
newspaper-pulp, but the snows were awakening to their morning
glory, and elouds still hung on the breasts of Kinehinjunga. In the
plain were seen the ruins of eities, with diminished rivers creeping
by their walls, and by the sides of these were sometimes the signs of
vomitories, marking the cities of to-day. Over the whole prospect
air-ships rushed, crossing the inter-crossing with incredible aplomb,
and rising nonchalantly when they desired to escape the
perturbations of the lower atmosphere and to traverse the Roof of
“We have indeed advanced, thanks to the Machine,” repeated the
attendant, and hid the Himalayas behind a metal blind.
The day dragged wearily forward. The passengers sat each in his
cabin, avoiding one another with an almost physical repulsion and
longing to be once more under the surface of the earth. There were
eight or ten of them, mostly young males, sent out from the public
nurseries to inhabit the rooms of those who had died in various
parts of the earth. The man who had dropped his Book was on the
homeward journey. He had been sent to Sumatra for the purpose of
propagating the race. Vashti alone was travelling by her private will.
At midday she took a second glance at the earth. The air-ship was
crossing another range of mountains, but she could see little, owing
to clouds. Masses of black rock hovered below her, and merged
indistinctly into grey. Their shapes were fantastic; one of them
resembled a prostrate man.
“No ideas here,” murmured Vashti, and hid the Caucasus behind a
In the evening she looked again. They were crossing a golden sea, in
which lay many small islands and one peninsula. She repeated, “No
ideas here,” and hid Greece behind a metal blind.
THE MENDING APPARATUS
By a vestibule, by a lift, by a tubular railway, by a platform, by a
sliding door - by reversing all the steps of her departure did Vashti
arrive at her son’s room, whieh exaetly resembled her own. She
might well declare that the visit was superfluous. The buttons, the
knobs, the reading-desk with the Book, the temperature, the
atmosphere, the illumination - all were exactly the same. And if
Kuno himself, flesh of her flesh, stood close beside her at last, what
profit was there in that? She was too well-bred to shake him by the
Averting her eyes, she spoke as follows:
“Here 1 am. 1 have had the most terrible journey and greatly retarded
the development of my soul. It is not worth it, Kuno, it is not worth
it. My time is too precious. The sunlight almost touched me, and 1
have met with the rudest people. 1 can only stop a few minutes. Say
what you want to say, and then 1 must return.”
“1 have been threatened with Homelessness,” said Kuno.
She looked at him now.
“1 have been threatened with Homelessness, and 1 could not tell you
such a thing through the Machine.”
Homelessness means death. The victim is exposed to the air, which
“1 have been outside since 1 spoke to you last. The tremendous thing
has happened, and they have discovered me.”
“But why shouldn’t you go outside?” she exclaimed, “It is perfectly
legal, perfectly mechanical, to visit the surface of the earth. 1 have
lately been to a lecture on the sea; there is no objection to that; one
simply summons a respirator and gets an Egression-permit. It is not
the kind of thing that spiritually minded people do, and 1 begged you
not to do it, but there is no legal objection to it.”
“I did not get an Egression-permit.”
“Then how did you get out?”
“I found out a way of my own.”
The phrase conveyed no meaning to her, and he had to repeat it.
“A way of your own?” she whispered. “But that would be wrong.”
The question shocked her beyond measure.
“You are beginning to worship the Machine,” he said coldly. “You
think it irreligious of me to have found out a way of my own. It was
just what the Committee thought, when they threatened me with
At this she grew angry. “1 worship nothing!” she cried. “1 am most
advanced. 1 don’t think you irreligious, for there is no such thing as
religion left. All the fear and the superstition that existed once have
been destroyed by the Machine. 1 only meant that to find out a way
of your own was-Besides, there is no new way out.”
“So it is always supposed.”
“Except through the vomitories, for which one must have an
Egression-permit, it is impossible to get out. The Book says so.”
“Well, the Book’s wrong, for 1 have been out on my feet.”
For Kuno was possessed of a certain physical strength.
By these days it was a demerit to be muscular. Each infant was
examined at birth, and all who promised undue strength were
destroyed. Humanitarians may protest, but it would have been no
true kindness to let an athlete live; he would never have been happy
in that state of life to which the Machine had called him; he would
have yearned for trees to climb, rivers to bathe in, meadows and hills
against which he might measure his body. Man must be adapted to
his surroundings, must he not? In the dawn of the world our weakly
must be exposed on Mount Taygetus, in its twilight our strong will
suffer euthanasia, that the Maehine may progress, that the Maehine
may progress, that the Machine may progress eternally.
“You know that we have lost the sense of space. We say ‘space is
annihilated,’ but we have annihilated not space, but the sense
thereof. We have lost a part of ourselves. 1 determined to recover it,
and 1 began by walking up and down the platform of the railway
outside my room. Up and down, until 1 was tired, and so did
recapture the meaning of ‘Near’ and ‘Far.’ ‘Near’ is a place to which 1
can get quickly on my feet, not a place to which the train or the air¬
ship will take me quickly. ‘Far’ is a place to which 1 cannot get quickly
on my feet; the vomitory is ‘far,’ though 1 could be there in thirty-
eight seconds by summoning the train. Man is the measure. That
was my first lesson. Man’s feet are the measure for distance, his
hands are the measure for ownership, his body is the measure for all
that is lovable and desirable and strong. Then 1 went further: it was
then that 1 called to you for the first time, and you would not come.
“This city, as you know, is built deep beneath the surface of the
earth, with only the vomitories protruding. Having paced the
platform outside my own room, 1 took the lift to the next platform
and paced that also, and so with each in turn, until 1 came to the
topmost, above which begins the earth. All the platforms were
exactly alike, and all that 1 gained by visiting them was to develop my
sense of space and my muscles. 1 think 1 should have been content
with this-it is not a little thing-but as 1 walked and brooded, it
occurred to me that our cities had been built in the days when men
still breathed the outer air, and that there had been ventilation
shafts for the workmen. 1 could think of nothing but these
ventilation shafts. Had they been destroyed by all the food-tubes
and medicine-tubes and music-tubes that the Machine has evolved
lately? Or did traces of them remain? One thing was certain. If 1
came upon them anywhere, it would be in the railway-tunnels of the
topmost story. Everywhere else, all space was accounted for.
“1 am telling my story quickly, but don’t think that 1 was not a coward
or that your answers never depressed me. It is not the proper thing,
it is not mechanical, it is not decent to walk along a railway-tunnel. I
did not fear that I might tread upon a live rail and be killed. I feared
something far more intangible- doing what was not contemplated
by the Machine. Then I said to myself, ‘Man is the measure,’ and I
went, and after many visits I found an opening.
“The tunnels, of course, were lighted. Everything is light, artificial
light; darkness is the exception. So when I saw a black gap in the
tiles, I knew that it was an exception, and rejoiced. I put in my arm-I
could put in no more at first-and waved it round and round in
ecstasy. I loosened another tile, and put in my head, and shouted
into the darkness: ‘I am coming, I shall do it yet,’ and my voice
reverberated down endless passages. I seemed to hear the spirits of
those dead workmen who had returned each evening to the starlight
and to their wives, and all the generations who had lived in the open
air called back to me, ‘You will do it yet, you are coming.’ ”
He paused, and, absurd as he was, his last words moved her.
For Kuno had lately asked to be a father, and his request had been
refused by the Committee. His was not a type that the Machine
desired to hand on.
“Then a train passed. It brushed by me, but I thrust my head and
arms into the hole. I had done enough for one day, so I crawled back
to the platform, went down in the lift, and summoned my bed. Ah
what dreams! And again I called you, and again you refused.”
She shook her head and said:
“Don’t. Don’t talk of these terrible things. You make me miserable.
You are throwing civilization away.”
“But I had got back the sense of space and a man cannot rest then. I
determined to get in at the hole and climb the shaft. And so I
exercised my arms. Day after day I went through ridiculous
movements, until my flesh ached, and I could hang by my hands and
hold the pillow of my bed outstretched for many minutes. Then I
summoned a respirator, and started.
“It was easy at first. The mortar had somehow rotted, and I soon
pushed some more tiles in, and elambered after them into the
darkness, and the spirits of the dead eomforted me. I don’t know
what I mean by that. I just say what I felt. I felt, for the first time,
that a protest had been lodged against corruption, and that even as
the dead were comforting me, so I was comforting the unborn. I felt
that humanity existed, and that it existed without clothes. How can I
possibly explain this? It was naked, humanity seemed naked, and all
these tubes and buttons and machineries neither came into the
world with us, nor will they follow us out, nor do they matter
supremely while we are here. Had I been strong, I would have torn
off every garment I had, and gone out into the outer air unswaddled.
But this is not for me, nor perhaps for my generation. I climbed with
my respirator and my hygienic clothes and my dietetic tabloids!
Better thus than not at all.
“There was a ladder, made of some primaeval metal. The light from
the railway fell upon its lowest rungs, and I saw that it led straight
upwards out of the rubble at the bottom of the shaft. Perhaps our
ancestors ran up and down it a dozen times daily, in their building.
As I climbed, the rough edges cut through my gloves so that my
hands bled. The light helped me for a little, and then came darkness
and, worse still, silence which pierced my ears like a sword. The
Machine hums! Did you know that? Its hum penetrates our blood,
and may even guide our thoughts. Who knows! I was getting beyond
its power. Then I thought: ‘This silence means that I am doing
wrong.’ But I heard voices in the silence, and again they
strengthened me.” He laughed. “I had need of them. The next
moment I cracked my head against something.”
“I had reached one of those pneumatic stoppers that defend us from
the outer air. You may have noticed them on the air-ship. Pitch dark,
my feet on the rungs of an invisible ladder, my hands cut; I cannot
explain how I lived through this part, but the voices still comforted
me, and I felt for fastenings. The stopper, I suppose, was about eight
feet aeross. I passed my hand over it as far as I eould reaeh. It was
perfeetly smooth. I felt it almost to the eentre. Not quite to the
eentre, for my arm was too short. Then the voiee said: ‘Jump. It is
worth it. There may be a handle in the eentre, and you may catch
hold of it and so come to us your own way. And if there is no handle,
so that you may fall and are dashed to pieces - it is still worth it: you
will still come to us your own way.’ So I jumped. There was a handle,
He paused. Tears gathered in his mother’s eyes. She knew that he
was fated. If he did not die to-day he would die to-morrow. There
was not room for such a person in the world. And with her pity
disgust mingled. She was ashamed at having borne such a son, she
who had always been so respectable and so full of ideas. Was he
really the little boy to whom she had taught the use of his stops and
buttons, and to whom she had given his first lessons in the Book?
The very hair that disfigured his lip showed that he was reverting to
some savage type. On atavism the Machine can have no mercy.
“There was a handle, and I did catch it. I hung tranced over the
darkness and heard the hum of these workings as the last whisper in
a dying dream. All the things I had cared about and all the people I
had spoken to through tubes appeared infinitely little. Meanwhile
the handle revolved. My weight had set something in motion and I
span slowly, and then-
“I cannot describe it. I was lying with my face to the sunshine. Blood
poured from my nose and ears and I heard a tremendous roaring.
The stopper, with me clinging to it, had simply been blown out of the
earth, and the air that we make down here was escaping through the
vent into the air above. It burst up like a fountain. I crawled back to
it-for the upper air hurts- and, as it were, I took great sips from the
edge. My respirator had flown goodness knows where, my clothes
were torn. I just lay with my lips close to the hole, and I sipped until
the bleeding stopped. You can imagine nothing so curious. This
hollow in the grass - I will speak of it in a minute, - the sun shining
into it, not brilliantly but through marbled clouds, - the peace, the
nonchalance, the sense of spaee, and, brushing my eheek, the
roaring fountain of our artificial air! Soon I spied my respirator,
bobbing up and down in the eurrent high above my head, and higher
still were many air-ships. But no one ever looks out of air-ships, and
in any ease they could not have pieked me up. There I was, stranded.
The sun shone a little way down the shaft, and revealed the topmost
rung of the ladder, but it was hopeless trying to reach it. I should
either have been tossed up again by the eseape, or else have fallen
in, and died. I eould only lie on the grass, sipping and sipping, and
from time to time glaneing around me.
“I knew that I was inWessex, for I had taken care to go to a leeture
on the subjeet before starting. Wessex lies above the room in whieh
we are talking now. It was onee an important state. Its kings held all
the southern eoast from the Andredswald to Cornwall, while the
Wansdyke proteeted them on the north, running over the high
ground. The leeturer was only eoneerned with the rise of Wessex, so
I do not know how long it remained an international power, nor
would the knowledge have assisted me. To tell the truth I eould do
nothing but laugh, during this part. There was I, with a pneumatic
stopper by my side and a respirator bobbing over my head,
imprisoned, all three of us, in a grass-grown hollow that was edged
Then he grew grave again.
“Lucky for me that it was a hollow. For the air began to fall baek into
it and to fill it as water fills a bowl. I eould erawl about. Presently I
stood. I breathed a mixture, in which the air that hurts
predominated whenever I tried to climb the sides. This was not so
bad. I had not lost my tabloids and remained ridieulously eheerful,
and as for the Maehine, I forgot about it altogether. My one aim now
was to get to the top, where the ferns were, and to view whatever
objeets lay beyond.
“I rushed the slope. The new air was still too bitter for me and I
eame rolling baek, after a momentary vision of something grey. The
sun grew very feeble, and I remembered that he was in Scorpio - I
had been to a lecture on that too. If the sun is in Scorpio, and you
are in Wessex, it means that you must be as quick as you can, or it
will get too dark. (This is the first bit of useful information 1 have
ever got from a lecture, and 1 expect it will be the last.) It made me
try frantically to breathe the new air, and to advance as far as 1 dared
out of my pond. The hollow filled so slowly. At times 1 thought that
the fountain played with less vigour. My respirator seemed to dance
nearer the earth; the roar was decreasing.”
He broke off.
“1 don’t think this is interesting you. The rest will interest you even
less. There are no ideas in it, and 1 wish that 1 had not troubled you
to come. We are too different, mother.”
She told him to continue.
“It was evening before 1 climbed the bank. The sun had very nearly
slipped out of the sky by this time, and 1 could not get a good view.
You, who have just crossed the Roof of the World, will not want to
hear an account of the little hills that 1 saw - low colourless hills. But
to me they were living and the turf that covered them was a skin,
under which their muscles rippled, and 1 felt that those hills had
called with incalculable force to men in the past, and that men had
loved them. Now they sleep - perhaps for ever. They commune with
humanity in dreams. Happy the man, happy the woman, who awakes
the hills of Wessex. For though they sleep, they will never die.”
His voice rose passionately.
“Cannot you see, cannot all you lecturers see, that it is we that are
dying, and that down here the only thing that really lives is the
Machine? We created the Machine, to do our will, but we cannot
make it do our will now. It has robbed us of the sense of space and of
the sense of touch, it has blurred every human relation and
narrowed down love to a carnal act, it has paralysed our bodies and
our wills, and now it compels us to worship it. The Machine develops
- but not on our lines. The Machine proceeds - but not to our goal.
We only exist as the blood eorpuseles that eourse through its
arteries, and if it could work without us, it would let us die. Oh, 1
have no remedy-or, at least, only one-to tell men again and again
that 1 have seen the hills of Wessex as ^Ifrid saw them when he
overthrew the Danes.
“So the sun set. 1 forgot to mention that a belt of mist lay between
my hill and other hills, and that it was the colour of pearl.”
He broke off for the second time.
“Go on,” said his mother wearily.
He shook his head.
“Go on. Nothing that you say can distress me now. 1 am hardened.”
“1 had meant to tell you the rest, but 1 cannot: 1 know that 1 cannot:
good-bye.” Vashti stood irresolute. All her nerves were tingling with
his blasphemies. But she was also inquisitive.
“This is unfair,” she complained. “You have called me across the
world to hear your story, and hear it 1 will. Tell me - as briefly as
possible, for this is a disastrous waste of time- tell me how you
returned to civilization.”
“Oh - that!” he said, starting. “You would like to hear about
civilization. Certainly. Had 1 got to where my respirator fell down?”
“No - but 1 understand everything now. You put on your respirator,
and managed to walk along the surface of the earth to a vomitory,
and there your conduct was reported to the Central Committee.”
“By no means.”
He passed his hand over his forehead, as if dispelling some strong
impression. Then, resuming his narrative, he warmed to it again.
“My respirator fell about sunset. 1 had mentioned that the fountain
seemed feebler, had 1 not?”
“About sunset, it let the respirator fall. As 1 said, 1 had entirely
forgotten about the Machine, and 1 paid no great attention at the
time, being occupied with other things. 1 had my pool of air, into
which 1 could dip when the outer keenness became intolerable, and
which would possibly remain for days, provided that no wind sprang
up to disperse it. Not until it was too late did 1 realize what the
stoppage of the escape implied. You see - the gap in the tunnel had
been mended; the Mending Apparatus; the Mending Apparatus, was
“One other warning 1 had, but 1 neglected it. The sky at night was
clearer than it had been in the day, and the moon, which was about
half the sky behind the sun, shone into the dell at moments quite
brightly. 1 was in my usual place - on the boundary between the two
atmospheres - when 1 thought 1 saw something dark move across
the bottom of the dell, and vanish into the shaft. In my folly, 1 ran
down. 1 bent over and listened, and 1 thought 1 heard a faint scraping
noise in the depths.
“At this-but it was too late-1 took alarm. 1 determined to put on my
respirator and to walk right out of the dell. But my respirator had
gone. 1 knew exactly where it had fallen -between the stopper and
the aperture-and 1 could even feel the mark that it had made in the
turf. It had gone, and 1 realized that something evil was at work, and
1 had better escape to the other air, and, if 1 must die, die running
towards the cloud that had been the colour of a pearl. 1 never
started. Out of the shaft - it is too horrible. A worm, a long white
worm, had crawled out of the shaft and was gliding over the moonlit
“1 screamed. 1 did everything that 1 should not have done, 1 stamped
upon the creature instead of flying from it, and it at once curled
round the ankle. Then we fought. The worm let me run all over the
dell, but edged up my leg as 1 ran. ‘Help!’ 1 cried. (That part is too
awful. It belongs to the part that you will never know.) ‘Help!’ 1 cried.
(Why cannot we suffer in silence?) ‘Help!’ 1 cried. Then my feet were
wound together, 1 fell, 1 was dragged away from the dear ferns and
the living hills, and past the great metal stopper (1 ean tell you this
part), and 1 thought it might save me again if 1 eaught hold of the
handle. It also was enwrapped, it also. Oh, the whole dell was full of
the things. They were searching it in all directions, they were
denuding it, and the white snouts of others peeped out of the hole,
ready if needed. Everything that could be moved they brought -
brushwood, bundles of fern, everything, and down we all went
intertwined into hell. The last things that 1 saw, ere the stopper
closed after us, were certain stars, and 1 felt that a man of my sort
lived in the sky. For 1 did fight, 1 fought till the very end, and it was
only my head hitting against the ladder that quieted me. 1 woke up in
this room. The worms had vanished. 1 was surrounded by artificial
air, artificial light, artificial peace, and my friends were calling to me
down speaking-tubes to know whether 1 had come across any new
Here his story ended. Discussion of it was impossible, and Vashti
turned to go.
“It will end in Homelessness,” she said quietly.
“1 wish it would,” retorted Kuno.
“The Machine has been most merciful.”
“1 prefer the mercy of God.”
“By that superstitious phrase, do you mean that you could live in the
“Have you ever seen, round the vomitories, the bones of those who
were extruded after the Great Rebellion?”
“They were left where they perished for our edification. A few
crawled away, but they perished, too- who can doubt it? And so
with the Homeless of our own day. The surface of the earth supports
life no longer.”
“Ferns and a little grass may survive, but all higher forms have
perished. Has any air-ship detected them?”
“Has any lecturer dealt with them?”
“Then why this obstinacy?”
“Because I have seen them,” he exploded.
“Because I have seen her in the twilight-because she came to my
help when I called - because she, too, was entangled by the worms,
and, luckier than I, was killed by one of them piercing her throat.”
He was mad. Vashti departed, nor, in the troubles that followed, did
she ever see his face again.
During the years that followed Kuno’s escapade, two important
developments took place in the Machine. On the surface they were
revolutionary, but in either case men’s minds had been prepared
beforehand, and they did but express tendencies that were latent
already. The first of these was the abolition of respirators.
Advanced thinkers, like Vashti, had always held it foolish to visit the
surface of the earth. Air-ships might be necessary, but what was the
good of going out for mere curiosity and crawling along for a mile or
two in a terrestrial motor? The habit was vulgar and perhaps faintly
improper: it was unproductive of ideas, and had no connection with
the habits that really mattered. So respirators were abolished, and
with them, of course, the terrestrial motors, and except for a few
lecturers, who complained that they were debarred access to their
subject-matter, the development was accepted quietly. Those who
still wanted to know what the earth was like had after all only to
listen to some gramophone, or to look into some cinematophote.
And even the lecturers acquiesced when they found that a lecture
on the sea was none the less stimulating when compiled out of other
lectures that had already been delivered on the same subject.
“Beware of first-hand ideas!” exclaimed one of the most advanced of
them. “First-hand ideas do not really exist. They are but the physical
impressions produced by love and fear, and on this gross foundation
who could erect a philosophy? Let your ideas be second-hand, and if
possible tenth-hand, for then they will be far removed from that
disturbing element - direct observation. Do not learn anything
about this subject of mine - the French Revolution. Learn instead
what 1 think that Enicharmon thought Urizen thought Gutch
thought Ho-Yung thought Chi-Bo-Sing thought Lafcadio Hearn
thought Carlyle thought Mirabeau said about the French Revolution.
Through the medium of these ten great minds, the blood that was
shed at Paris and the windows that were broken at Versailles will be
clarified to an idea which you may employ most profitably in your
daily lives. But be sure that the intermediates are many and varied,
for in history one authority exists to eounteraet another. Urizen
must eounteraet the seeptieism of Ho-Yung and Enicharmon, 1 must
myself counteract the impetuosity of Gutch. You who listen to me
are in a better position to judge about the French Revolution than 1
am. Your descendants will be even in a better position than you, for
they will learn what you think 1 think, and yet another intermediate
will be added to the chain. And in time” - his voice rose-“there will
come a generation that had got beyond facts, beyond impressions, a
generation absolutely colourless, a generation
‘seraphically free From taint of personality,’
which will see the French Revolution not as it happened, nor as they
would like it to have happened, but as it would have happened, had it
taken place in the days of the Machine.” Tremendous applause
greeted this lecture, which did but voice a feeling already latent in
the minds of men-a feeling that terrestrial facts must be ignored,
and that the abolition of respirators was a positive gain. It was even
suggested that air-ships should be abolished too. This was not done,
because air-ships had somehow worked themselves into the
Machine’s system. But year by year they were used less, and
mentioned less by thoughtful men. The second great development
was the re-establishment of religion.
This, too, had been voiced in the celebrated lecture. No one could
mistake the reverent tone in which the peroration had concluded,
and it awakened a responsive echo in the heart of each. Those who
had long worshipped silently, now began to talk. They described the
strange feeling of peace that came over them when they handled the
Book of the Machine, the pleasure that it was to repeat certain
numerals out of it, however little meaning those numerals conveyed
to the outward ear, the ecstasy of touching a button, however
unimportant, or of ringing an electric bell, however superfluously.
“The Machine,” they exclaimed, “feeds us and clothes us and houses
us; through it we speak to one another, through it we see one
another, in it we have our being. The Machine is the friend of ideas
and the enemy of superstition: the Machine is omnipotent, eternal;
blessed is the Machine.” And before long this allocution was printed
on the first page of the Book, and in subsequent editions the ritual
swelled into a complicated system of praise and prayer. The word
“religion” was sedulously avoided, and in theory the Machine was
still the creation and the implement of man. But in practice all, save
a few retrogrades, worshipped it as divine. Nor was it worshipped in
unity. One believer would be chiefly impressed by the blue optic
plates, through which he saw other believers; another by the
mending apparatus, which sinful Kuno had compared to worms;
another by the lifts, another by the Book. And each would pray to
this or to that, and ask it to intercede for him with the Machine as a
whole. Persecution - that also was present. It did not break out, for
reasons that will be set forward shortly. But it was latent, and all who
did not accept the minimum known as “undenominational
Mechanism” lived in danger of Homelessness, which means death, as
To attribute these two great developments to the Central
Committee, is to take a very narrow view of civilization. The Central
Committee announced the developments, it is true, but they were
no more the cause of them than were the kings of the imperialistic
period the cause of war. Rather did they yield to some invincible
pressure, which came no one knew whither, and which, when
gratified, was succeeded by some new pressure equally invincible.
To such a state of affairs it is convenient to give the name of
progress. No one confessed the Machine was out of hand. Year by
year it was served with increased efficiency and decreased
intelligence. The better a man knew his own duties upon it, the less
he understood the duties of his neighbour, and in all the world there
was not one who understood the monster as a whole. Those master
brains had perished. They had left full directions, it is true, and their
successors had each of them mastered a portion of those directions.
But Humanity, in its desire for comfort, had over-reached itself. It
had exploited the riches of nature too far. Quietly and complacently,
it was sinking into decadence, and progress had come to mean the
progress of the Machine.
As for Vashti, her life went peacefully forward until the final disaster.
She made her room dark and slept; she awoke and made the room
light. She lectured and attended lectures. She exchanged ideas with
her innumerable friends and believed she was growing more
spiritual. At times a friend was granted Euthanasia, and left his or
her room for the homelessness that is beyond all human conception.
Vashti did not much mind. After an unsuccessful lecture, she would
sometimes ask for Euthanasia herself. But the death-rate was not
permitted to exceed the birth-rate, and the Machine had hitherto
refused it to her. The troubles began quietly, long before she was
conscious of them.
One day she was astonished at receiving a message from her son.
They never communicated, having nothing in common, and she had
only heard indirectly that he was still alive, and had been transferred
from the northern hemisphere, where he had behaved so
mischievously, to the southern-indeed, to a room not far from her
“Does he want me to visit him?” she thought. “Never again, never.
And 1 have not the time.”
No, it was madness of another kind.
He refused to visualize his face upon the blue plate, and speaking
out of the darkness with solemnity said:
“The Machine stops.”
“What do you say?”
“The Machine is stopping, 1 know it, 1 know the signs.”
She burst into a peal of laughter. He heard her and was angry, and
they spoke no more.
“Can you imagine anything more absurd?” she eried to a friend. “A
man who was my son believes that the Machine is stopping. It would
be impious if it was not mad.”
“The Machine is stopping?” her friend replied. “What does that
mean? The phrase conveys nothing to me.”
“Nor to me.”
“He does not refer, I suppose, to the trouble there has been lately
with the music?”
“Oh no, of course not. Let us talk about music.”
“Have you complained to the authorities?”
“Yes, and they say it wants mending, and referred me to the
Committee of the Mending Apparatus. I complained of those curious
gasping sighs that disfigure the symphonies of the Brisbane school.
They sound like some one in pain. The Committee of the Mending
Apparatus say that it shall be remedied shortly.”
Obscurely worried, she resumed her life. For one thing, the defect in
the music irritated her. For another thing, she could not forget
Kuno’s speech. If he had known that the music was out of repair - he
could not know it, for he detested music- if he had known that it
was wrong, “the Machine stops” was exactly the venomous sort of
remark he would have made. Of course he had made it at a venture,
but the coincidence annoyed her, and she spoke with some
petulance to the Committee of the Mending Apparatus.
They replied, as before, that the defect would be set right shortly.
“Shortly! At once!” she retorted. “Why should I be worried by
imperfect music? Things are always put right at once. If you do not
mend it at once, I shall complain to the Central Committee.”
“No personal complaints are received by the Central Committee,” the
Committee of the Mending Apparatus replied.
“Through whom am I to make my complaint, then?”
“I complain then.”
“Your complaint shall be forwarded in its turn.”
“Have others complained?”
This question was unmechanical, and the Committee of the Mending
Apparatus refused to answer it.
“It is too bad!” she exclaimed to another of her friends. “There never
was such an unfortunate woman as myself. 1 can never be sure of my
music now. It gets worse and worse each time 1 summon it.”
“1 too have my troubles,” the friend replied. “Sometimes my ideas are
interrupted by a slight jarring noise.”
“What is it?”
“1 do not know whether it is inside my head, or inside the wall.”
“Complain, in either case.”
“1 have complained, and my complaint will be forwarded in its turn
to the Central Committee.”
Time passed, and they resented the defects no longer. The defects
had not been remedied, but the human tissues in that latter day had
become so subservient, that they readily adapted themselves to
every caprice of the Machine. The sigh at the crises of the Brisbane
symphony no longer irritated Vashti; she accepted it as part of the
melody. The jarring noise, whether in the head or in the wall, was no
longer resented by her friend. And so with the mouldy artificial fruit,
so with the bath water that began to stink, so with the defective
rhymes that the poetry machine had taken to emit. All were bitterly
complained of at first, and then acquiesced in and forgotten. Things
went from bad to worse unchallenged.
It was otherwise with the failure of the sleeping apparatus. That was
a more serious stoppage. There came a day when over the whole
world - in Sumatra, in Wessex, in the innumerable cities of Courland
and Brazil-the beds, when summoned by their tired owners, failed
to appear. It may seem a ludicrous matter, but from it we may date
the collapse of humanity. The Committee responsible for the failure
was assailed by complainants, whom it referred, as usual, to the
Committee of the Mending Apparatus, who in its turn assured them
that their complaints would be forwarded to the Central Committee.
But the discontent grew, for mankind was not yet sufficiently
adaptable to do without sleeping.
“Some one is meddling with the Machine-” they began.
“Some one is trying to make himself king, to reintroduce the
“Punish that man with Homelessness.”
“To the rescue! Avenge the Machine! Avenge the Machine!”
“War! Kill the man!”
But the Committee of the Mending Apparatus now came forward,
and allayed the panic with well-chosen words. It confessed that the
Mending Apparatus was itself in need of repair.
The effect of this frank confession was admirable.
“Of course,” said a famous lecturer - he of the French Revolution,
who gilded each new decay with splendour-“of course we shall not
press our complaints now. The Mending Apparatus has treated us so
well in the past that we all sympathize with it, and will wait patiently
for its recovery. In its own good time it will resume its duties.
Meanwhile let us do without our beds, our tabloids, our other little
wants. Such, 1 feel sure, would be the wish of the Machine.”
Thousands of miles away his audience applauded. The Machine still
linked them. Under the seas, beneath the roots of the mountains,
ran the wires through which they saw and heard, the enormous eyes
and ears that were their heritage, and the hum of many workings
clothed their thoughts in one garment of subserviency. Only the old
and the sick remained ungrateful, for it was rumoured that
Euthanasia, too, was out of order, and that pain had reappeared
It became difficult to read. A blight entered the atmosphere and
dulled its luminosity. At times Vashti could scarcely see across her
room. The air, too, was foul. Loud were the complaints, impotent the
remedies, heroic the tone of the lecturer as he cried: “Courage!
courage! What matter so long as the Machine goes on? To it the
darkness and the light are one.” And though things improved again
after a time, the old brilliancy was never recaptured, and humanity
never recovered from its entrance into twilight. There was an
hysterical talk of “measures,” of “provisional dictatorship,” and the
inhabitants of Sumatra were asked to familiarize themselves with the
workings of the central power station, the said power station being
situated in France. But for the most part panic reigned, and men
spent their strength praying to their Books, tangible proofs of the
Machine’s omnipotence. There were gradations of terror-at times
came rumours of hope-the Mending Apparatus was almost mended
- the enemies of the Machine had been got under-new “nerve-
centres” were evolving which would do the work even more
magnificently than before. But there came a day when, without the
slightest warning, without any previous hint of feebleness, the entire
communication-system broke down, all over the world, and the
world, as they understood it, ended.
Vashti was lecturing at the time and her earlier remarks had been
punctuated with applause. As she proceeded the audience became
silent, and at the conclusion there was no sound. Somewhat
displeased, she called to a friend who was a specialist in sympathy.
No sound: doubtless the friend was sleeping. And so with the next
friend whom she tried to summon, and so with the next, until she
remembered Kuno’s cryptic remark, “The Machine stops”.
The phrase still conveyed nothing. If Eternity was stopping it would
of course be set going shortly.
For example, there was still a little light and air - the atmosphere
had improved a few hours previously. There was still the Book, and
while there was the Book there was security.
Then she broke down, for with the eessation of activity came an
unexpected terror - silence.
She had never known silence, and the coming of it nearly killed her-
it did kill many thousands of people outright. Ever since her birth
she had been surrounded by the steady hum. It was to the ear what
artificial air was to the lungs, and agonizing pains shot across her
head. And scarcely knowing what she did, she stumbled forward and
pressed the unfamiliar button, the one that opened the door of her
Now the door of the cell worked on a simple hinge of its own. It was
not connected with the central power station, dying far away in
France. It opened, rousing immoderate hopes in Vashti, for she
thought that the Machine had been mended. It opened, and she saw
the dim tunnel that curved far away towards freedom. One look, and
then she shrank back. For the tunnel was full of people-she was
almost the last in that city to have taken alarm.
People at any time repelled her, and these were nightmares from her
worst dreams. People were crawling about, people were screaming,
whimpering, gasping for breath, touching each other, vanishing in
the dark, and ever and anon being pushed off the platform on to the
live rail. Some were fighting round the electric bells, trying to
summon trains which could not be summoned. Others were yelling
for Euthanasia or for respirators, or blaspheming the Machine.
Others stood at the doors of their cells fearing, like herself, either to
stop in them or to leave them. And behind all the uproar was silence
- the silence which is the voice of the earth and of the generations
who have gone.
No - it was worse than solitude. She closed the door again and sat
down to wait for the end. The disintegration went on, accompanied
by horrible cracks and rumbling. The valves that restrained the
Medical Apparatus must have weakened, for it ruptured and hung
hideously from the ceiling. The floor heaved and fell and flung her
from the chair. A tube oozed towards her serpent fashion. And at last
the final horror approached - light began to ebb, and she knew that
civilization’s long day was closing.
She whirled around, praying to be saved from this, at any rate,
kissing the Book, pressing button after button. The uproar outside
was increasing, and even penetrated the wall. Slowly the brilliancy of
her cell was dimmed, the reflections faded from the metal switches.
Now she could not see the reading-stand, now not the Book, though
she held it in her hand. Light followed the flight of sound, air was
following light, and the original void returned to the cavern from
which it has so long been excluded. Vashti continued to whirl, like
the devotees of an earlier religion, screaming, praying, striking at the
buttons with bleeding hands.
It was thus that she opened her prison and escaped-escaped in the
spirit: at least so it seems to me, ere my meditation closes. That she
escapes in the body - 1 cannot perceive that. She struck, by chance,
the switch that released the door, and the rush of foul air on her
skin, the loud throbbing whispers in her ears, told her that she was
facing the tunnel again, and that tremendous platform on which she
had seen men fighting. They were not fighting now. Only the
whispers remained, and the little whimpering groans. They were
dying by hundreds out in the dark.
She burst into tears.
Tears answered her.
They wept for humanity, those two, not for themselves. They could
not bear that this should be the end. Ere silence was completed their
hearts were opened, and they knew what had been important on the
earth. Man, the flower of all flesh, the noblest of all creatures visible,
man who had once made god in his image, and had mirrored his
strength on the constellations, beautiful naked man was dying,
strangled in the garments that he had woven. Century after century
had he toiled, and here was his reward. Truly the garment had
seemed heavenly at first, shot with colours of culture, sewn with the
threads of self denial. And heavenly it had been so long as it was a
garment and no more, man eould shed it at will and live by the
essence that is his soul, and the essence, equally divine, that is his
body. The sin against the body-it was for that they wept in chief; the
centuries of wrong against the muscles and the nerves, and those
five portals by which we can alone apprehend - glozing it over with
talk of evolution, until the body was white pap, the home of ideas as
colourless, last sloshy stirrings of a spirit that had grasped the stars.
“Where are you?” she sobbed.
His voice in the darkness said, “Here.”
“Is there any hope, Kuno?”
“None for us.”
“Where are you?”
She crawled over the bodies of the dead. His blood spurted over her
“Quicker,” he gasped, “1 am dying-but we touch, we talk, not through
the Machine.” He kissed her.
“We have come back to our own. We die, but we have recaptured
life, as it was in Wessex, when ^Ifrid overthrew the Danes. We know
what they know outside, they who dwelt in the cloud that is the
colour of a pearl.”
“But Kuno, is it true? Are there still men on the surface of the earth?
Is this - this tunnel, this poisoned darkness -really not the end?”
“1 have seen them, spoken to them, loved them. They are hiding in
the mist and the ferns until our civilization stops. To-day they are
the Homeless- to-morrow-”
“Oh, to-morrow-some fool will start the Machine again, to-morrow.”
“Never,” said Kuno, “never. Humanity has learnt its lesson.”
As he spoke, the whole city was broken like a honeycomb. An air¬
ship had sailed in through the vomitory into a ruined wharf. It
crashed downwards, exploding as it went, rending gallery after
gallery with its wings of steel. For a moment they saw the nations of
the dead, and, before they joined them, seraps of the untainted sky.